Zimbabwe has been called “the most beautiful country on the continent”, due to its spectacular natural scenery, pristine, untouched, and remote wilderness areas, and a staggering abundance and diversity of wildlife – it has some of the best game-viewing in Africa. The country is also home to two mighty rivers – the Zambezi and the Limpopo – and enormous, beautiful Lake Kariba, the largest man-made lake in the world (by volume). In addition to its wealth of natural history, the country also has a rich cultural history, with the magnificent ancient ruins of Great Zimbabwe and some of the best-preserved ancient rock paintings in Africa.
Zimbabwe has also been called “Real Africa”, unspoiled and wild. Visitors who come here for safaris have authentic and intimate experiences with wildlife, without the long lines of vehicles found in many other parks on the continent. Hwange National Park is well-known for its enormous herds of elephants, and Mana Pools is a watery wildlife haven, offering wildlife adventures by jeep, foot, boat and canoe.
Last, but certainly not least, there is the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world and the “Adrenalin Capital of the World”, where the adventurous can bungee jump into a precipitous gorge, go white water rafting, or take the helicopter “Flight of Angels”. There are also calm and tranquil activities – taking a sunset cruise, enjoying high tea, or simply standing in awe.
Regions of Zimbabwe
Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest, covering more than 5000 square miles, is the country’s premier wildlife destination, attracting visitors to both the great diversity and sheer numbers of animals. It is home to 100 species of mammals, and 400 bird species, including one of the largest elephant populations in Africa, and one of the few parks left with the rare African wild dog.
Due to the lack of permanent water, animals rely on the park’s waterholes. In dry season, rather than driving around looking for wildlife, this is where the action is. There are animals coming to drink, and predators coming to hunt them when they dare try and quench their thirst. In some camps, with private waterholes, you can even “game watch” from the comfort of your own bed. “It really doesn’t get much better than this anywhere in Africa.”
Mana Pools National Park, a Natural World Heritage site, is named for its large pools of water, some 5 miles long, not really “pools” at all, where a great abundance and diversity of wildlife come to drink and forage on the lush vegetation on shore. It is well-known as one of Africa’s best game-viewing areas, including large herds of elephant and buffalo. The park is in a spectacular location, in the heart of a beautiful valley, with the backdrop of the dramatic Rift Valley Escarpment, and the mighty Zambezi flowing through it.
Although game drives are possible, canoe safaris are amazing here because of all the animals attracted to the pools. A calm, drifting approach to wildlife grazing on the banks provides a different point of view than the typical land rover, allowing for quiet, intimate moments with wildlife, as well as thrilling opportunities to encounter one of Africa’s highest concentrations of crocodiles and hippos in their natural habitat. Mana Pools is also a premier location for walking safaris. It is one of the few places in southern Africa where you can walk in the wilderness on your own, without a guide, although most people do seem happy to be led by some of the finest guides on the continent when approaching and observing a large elephant or temperamental buffalo up close in the wild.
The Matobo Hills, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, is renowned for its unique combination of rich human history, remarkably diverse wildlife, and a very unusual landscape. Some would say it looks like another planet- jumbles of giant rocks, stacks of boulders balancing on one another, and huge granite monoliths, all naturally sculptured, carved by millions of years of erosion. Visitors can explore on foot, go on safari, or enjoy a variety of other activities, including horseback riding, fishing, boating, and canoeing. It is also a hiker’s paradise.
The area also has great cultural and spiritual significance, with Stone Age paintings created by Bushmen (or San), which can be seen in rock shelters and caves. Today, sections of the Hills are a tribal area where thatched mud-walled villages still exist, and important ceremonies still take place.
Matabo’s fascinating combination of natural and human history is magical, and well worth a visit.
Lake Kariba, the largest man-made lake in the world (by volume) was created by a massive dam built on the mighty Zambezi River. It is hard not to be mesmerized by its sheer size, covering an area of 2,000 square miles, and incredible beauty, a deep blue inland sea with lush vegetation on shore, an eerie but photogenic petrified forest of drowned trees, and a backdrop of majestic mountains. It is a popular resort area where visitors come to relax, soak in magical sunsets from a houseboat, and to enjoy a variety of watersports, including parasailing, waterskiing, diving, sailing and some of the world’s best fishing, especially tiger fish. There are also restaurants and a casino for those interested in a bit of nightlife.
The area is also home to an abundance of wildlife, which can be viewed from a houseboat or canoe – just be a little careful, as the lake also attracts a very large population of crocodiles.
Matusadona National Park
Matusadona National Park is a remote and isolated wilderness located on Lake Kariba, an enormous man-made lake. Many of the animals are the descendants of “Operation Noah”, when wildlife in the area was rescued and released here after the lake was built. It is well known for very large herds of elephant and buffalo, which congregate along the shoreline. Other species include hippo, lion, leopard, hyena, waterbuck, sable and roan antelope and 240 species of birds, including the iconic fish eagle.
The best way to experience Matusadona is on a walking safari. It can also be explored from the water, by canoe, or on a “floating safari lodge” or houseboat. The park is not easy to get to by road, even in a land rover – it is most easily reached by boat or light aircraft, flying over the crocodile-infested water. The benefit to its remoteness, for those who make the effort, is that there are few tourists, providing guests with exclusive and intimate game viewing experiences.
The Great Zimbabwe Ruins
Once Zimbabwe’s capital city, The Great Zimbabwe Ruins is considered to be the biggest and most significant stone archaeological complex in sub-Saharan Africa. It is also one of its oldest, believed to date back to the 11th century.
Visitors come to this World Heritage Site to wander among the spectacular giant granite blocks, sculptures, and a maze of narrow passageways. With few tourists, one can often explore alone, except for an occasional baboon, and imagine life as it used to be in this African empire of great wealth and architectural skill.